Ike admits to liking trance, then sheepishly tries to defend it, sort of.
I have something embarrassing and uncool to admit: I listen to trance music. I get made fun of for it. Even big-time EDM fans will tell you that trance is now kind of a joke. No one talks about it as a “legitimate” (read: cool) dance genre anymore, even though it is technically and numerically still one of the major EDM genres. In recent years, trance has been overshadowed by house and dubstep, both of which have made a considerable mark on the music scene in mainstream America. (Indeed, dubstep is so inexplicably prevalent that it’s now appearing in ads for tablets, kids’ clothing, and crappy CBS dramas aimed at mainstream Middle America. This makes very little sense to me. But that’s a subject for another time altogether. Although before we move on, you should definitely watch Key and Peele’s hilarious take on dubstep.) It seems that trance reached its peak some years ago, and is now falling prey to a new generation of EDM fans who were weaned on shorter house tracks with bigger drops, heavier bass, and a more seamless ability to be coupled with pop. Which begs the question: is trance music dead?
Trance traces its origins to the early- to mid-90s in Germany. Drawing from many EDM styles like house, techno, and chillout, as well as from classical music, trance typically employs a tempo of anywhere between 110 and 150 BPM (faster than house music) and melodic orchestration and phrases that repeat throughout. Trance productions normally contain drawn-out mid-song breakdowns for which everything is faded out with the exception of the central melody, or hook. From there, the songs gradually build toward their uplifting drops, which are so often associated with the euphoric rushes connoted by the genre’s name.
One of the earliest trance songs was German duo Jam & Spoon’s 1992 remix of “Age of Love”, a 1990 single from an artist of the same name. (Note to first-time listeners: this is not really what trance sounds like now.) As trance evolved, the genre pushed its way to the forefront of the dance music scene, seemingly rising to the top when Ibiza (or balearic) trance was at its peak around the turn of the millenium. (Of course, this is not to take away from house, which has remained central to EDM ever since its very beginnings.)
For years, EDM’s biggest acts were trance artists. The much-maligned annual DJ Mag Top 100 list used to be dominated at the top by trance DJs. In fact, in its 16-year history, the list has been topped 14 times by a trance artist. The credibility of the DJ Mag poll is admittedly debatable, but it is worth noting that throughout its existence, while the very top of the list has featured trance producers, a large number of the names on it have been house and techno DJs.
In recent years, as EDM’s popularity has increased, trance artists have taken a backseat — especially in America — to house, electro, and dubstep DJs whose tracks, sensibilities, and overall styles align more closely with the tastes and desires of the latest, youngest, and largest generation of EDM listeners. Appropriately, in 2011 pop-house star David Guetta unseated trance giant Armin van Buuren atop the DJ Mag list.
Many artists have adjusted accordingly to this shift. Sasha and John Digweed, who each topped the DJ Mag poll in 2000 and 2001, respectively, have since moved away from trance and into the realm of progressive house and techno. Back in 2008-09, one-time trance giant Tiësto left behind his In Search Of Sunrise compilation series along with Black Hole Recordings and changed his tune, gradually becoming the electro/pop-house artist he is today.
At the time, Tiësto was seen as a traitor of sorts for having abandoned the genre he so helped to build up, but perhaps he was being forward-thinking and sensed that the growth and development of trance might soon become limited. After all, the dude makes bank, so you can’t fault him too much for exploring a new musical direction, which, of course, was and is his right to do anyway. By that same token, artists should be free to experiment and work in different genres, for the sake of both creativity and not being pigeonholed.
So has trance given way to melodic, bass-heavy big-room bangers that take less time to build and play into Generation Z’s need for instant gratification? Yeah, maybe. But at the same time, you better believe that trance is alive and well. All around the world there are people listening to it. Tens of millions of people. People who write in to weekly radio shows by trance DJs like Armin van Buuren and Above & Beyond to report how their wedding vows were exchanged and their infant babies born with those producers’ anthems playing in the background. (I’m not kidding.)
There are a lot of trance fans still out there. I happen to be one of them. The genre is still evolving, and every couple of weeks or so, I hear new trance productions that reshape my expectations of what a great dance track can be. And hey, in 2012 Armin regained his spot atop the Top 100 list. I’ll chalk that one up as a win for trance.